Regular season games in Georgia didn’t start until last Thursday, but with the North Georgia Showcase on Saturday I was able to catch a good amount of action in Week 1 of the season. The games I watched had a ton of undervalued guys who are going to be important pieces to their high school teams this winter. There will be a Sleeper Report every week, here’s the first.
6’2” 2021 G Bennett Ulm (Cherokee)
11 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks vs. Alexander
Playing alongside some talented offensive prospects, Ulm knows his role as an energy/utility guy and excels in it. The last time I watched Cherokee during the 2019-20 season, Ulm was great against Etowah; his performance to kick off the 2020-21 season against Alexander was similar. Ulm was already a pretty scrappy player before, but he has bulked up a good bit and can be even more effective mixing it up for rebounds and loose balls among other bodies. He stays engaged defensively both on and off the ball to rack up steals & deflections, gets out in transition for easy baskets, and is vocal. You’ll rarely see him taking a play off on either end as he is constantly moving and looking to be involved in the action. At a strong 6’2” with speed and good intangibles, Ulm is a valuable asset to Cherokee’s team and could be one that small college programs start to take a look at.
6’3” 2021 SG Sam Tidwell (Dalton)
12 points (2 3’s), 6 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks vs. East Hamilton (TN)
Similar to Ulm, Tidwell plays extremely hard and doesn’t need the ball much to be effective. He has to carry a heavier offensive load considering Dalton’s personnel, and he’s skilled enough to do so. Tidwell is skinny but not soft at all; he is more than willing to challenge stronger guys and makes a lot of hustle plays. He has a really good understanding of how to play with his movement off the ball, passing, and selective offense. Tidwell has a nice stroke from 3 but doesn’t settle and instead gets better looks in the paint by cutting often. Going back to his motor, there were multiple times where Tidwell would seemingly fly out of nowhere for steals, blocks, or rebounds against East Hamilton. He came up with some important plays on defense that kept the game tight. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury in the 2nd half that kept him out the rest of the game but I really enjoyed watching him while he was in.
2021 SG Jordan Harris (East Hamilton)
19 points (3 3’s), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals vs. Dalton
Harris came through in a big way in East Hamilton’s first game of the season. He led them with 19 points as the took down Dalton and scored those points pretty quietly. Harris didn’t use a bunch of dribbles but was steady with his production throughout the game and proved to be a reliable off-ball presence. He used his soft lefty jumper to knock down 3 3’s and looked particularly accurate from the corners. His outside shot sets up opportunities inside the arc and Harris has the body and touch to have some good moments around the basket. There’s always value in a guy who can shoot from the perimeter and do so without taking many shots or needing the ball in his hands a ton.
2021 W Kenny Simpson (White County)
18 points (2 3’s), 11 rebounds, 3 blocks vs. Holy Innocents’
I hadn’t seen Simpson before last Saturday, but he was a pleasant surprise against Holy Innocents’, going for 18 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Simpson can knock down some outside shots, but his effort and the little things he did were most impressive. I believe he took 2 charges in the game, snuck in for countless offensive rebounds, and played big for an undermanned and undersized Warrior team. Physical play isn’t an issue for Simpson as he has a big body and likes to bang on both ends. He had multiple and-ones finishes in the game and was able to get a few traffic buckets that you weren’t expecting to drop. There will be some help for Simpson and Jadon Yeh once guys come back from football for White County.
6’2” 2021 G Chris Lanns (Collins Hill)
16 points (3 3’s), 4 rebounds vs. Gainesville
A transfer from Peachtree Ridge, it hasn’t taken long for Lanns to fit in with the Eagles’. He’s strong, athletic, and long, allowing him to be effective in their press. Previously, I had seen Lanns attack the basket with purpose and have some impressive moments as a finisher; he did some of that against Gainesville but also showed continued improvement in his shooting ability. He hit 3 3’s and looked good from well beyond the arc on the wing. It’s clear that Lanns plays with a chip on his shoulder and has some intensity to him that also goes well with the type of system that Coach Joe Dix employs. As he keeps getting comfortable with his new team and learning how to be under control with his aggression, Lanns will be a really nice piece alongside Collins Hill’s other main guys.
6’2” 2021 G Trey Acklin (St. Pius)
14 points, 4 rebounds, 5 steals vs. Duluth
Every winter, St. Pius has a team that plays hard and wreaks havoc on defense. Acklin might be the hardest-playing among this year’s bunch. It seemed like he always making an impact one way or another against Duluth. He’s muscular, a good overall athlete, and knows who he is. Acklin uses his size and athletic ability to bother smaller guards and fly around off the ball defensively. His physicality is evident on offense as well; he goes to the basket with reckless abandon and is rarely deterred by contact. Athletically, Acklin doesn’t need much momentum to get up & above the rim, he uses his speed to position himself well for inside baskets both in transition and the halfcourt. He should have a really nice senior campaign.
6’6” 2021 W Makai Vassell (Lanier)
12 points, 6 rebounds vs. Hart County
Foul trouble saddled Vassell to the bench for significant portions of Lanier’s game against Hart County, but he still had a productive outing. He can fill a lot of different roles with his versatility at 6’6”. Vassell showed his ability to operate out of the high post and connect on mid-range shots but is also physical enough to finish inside. He seeks rebounding opportunities on both backboards nearly every possession and doesn’t mind going through bodies to secure them. Vassell is able to guard forwards effectively and has good feet & length that allow him to contain most HS wings and even some smaller guards. Although it wasn’t in the Week 1 timeframe, there wasn’t any foul trouble for Vassell against St. Francis last night and he took things to another level in a statement win for Lanier. They have Chattahoochee today, if he keeps it up there will be no shortage of college suitors for him.
6’1 2022 G Johnathan Taylor (Mill Creek)
16 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals vs. Cherokee Bluff
Mill Creek was at a considerable size disadvantage when taking on Cherokee Bluff, but they never gave in and Taylor took it upon himself to make things happen and keep the Hawks in the game in the 2nd half. There was talk of Taylor having an exceptional shooting performance in Mill Creek’s scrimmage but in this one most of his work came from slashing to the rim. He has good straight-line speed and does not play around with the ball, getting right to the point and embracing contact on his way to the basket. Taylor had a stretch in the 2nd half where he converted on multiple takes through some physical play when it looked like Cherokee Bluff was ready to put the game away. He finished with 16 points for the game and will need to maintain an aggressive mentality while Mill Creek’s football guys are out.
6’9” 2022 PF/C Blaine Bell (Lanier)
9 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks vs. Hart County
Bell was only in for short spurts against Hart County last Saturday, but he made the most of his minutes. Although he’s pretty thin at 6’9”, Bell plays with an unassuming tenacity and aggression that I liked. He was active protecting the paint, going outside of his area to contest and block shots more than a few times. Bell racked up some quick points by catching the ball well in traffic, and going up without hesitation for some nice finishes. He’s pretty mobile for his size and gets off his feet well too. It wasn’t in the time frame for this article, but Bell stepped up again last night with a nice showing against St. Francis and I’ll be watching him today against Chattahoochee. I’d expect him to be a guy whose role increases as the season goes on.
6’1” PG 2023 Jadon Yeh (White County)
20 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 4 blocks vs. Holy Innocents’
I don’t usually believe in labeling a 2023 prospect as a “sleeper”, but given how Yeh might not as much attention as he should these next few years with being at White County, I’m including him here. He is a coach’s son, but still plays with a level of poise and savvy that you wouldn’t expect from a player that just started their 2nd high school season. Yeh handles pressure better than a lot of upperclassmen and gets where he wants with a patient and controlled game off the dribble. Against Holy Innocents’, he pulled out the full bag of tricks around the basket with a wide variety of creative layups in traffic, converting at an impressive rate. He has improved as a leaper, elevating over guys in the paint to finish and swatting away some shots unlike most guards. There’s a lot to like with Yeh’s skilled, mature approach; he’s one to keep a close eye on moving forward.